by Samantha Marin
It may seem that filling up that ever-intimidating blank, new web page with words is the hardest part of writing. Au contraire! Writing is hard, but editing your own writing is even harder. Since most of us don’t have a professional editor on speed dial, learning to self-edit your work is important for saving time and money. You don’t need to take a writing class to learn the skills you need to edit your written content, however. Here are some tips to get started on editing your writing.
1. READ YOUR WORK OUT LOUD
Reading your piece of content out loud is a good way to assess your punctuation placement and change awkward-sounding words. Are you naturally taking a pause halfway through a long sentence? Maybe that sentence needs to be split into two. Are you stumbling over a blocky phrase full of three and four-syllable words? Take those out. If your piece sounds good spoken out loud, it will read smoothly when read silently.
2. CHECK YOUR PAUSES (COMMAS AND SUCH)
Comma splices are the most frequent problems I find in my own writing when I read over it. A comma splice is when a comma separates two phrases that should actually be split into two sentences. A sentence has one main idea, not two. A general rule to follow is that periods are your friend. Short sentences are easier to read and can help prevent people from skimming your work. Short sentences can also speed up the tempo of your piece, making it feel fast and vibrant rather than slow and lethargic.
3. CHECK FOR PASSIVE VOICE
Passive voice is something we all should have learned about in high school that I guarantee you none of us actually absorbed. It’s a verb construction that involves a silent actor. For example, “the tree was blown” is written in passive voice, whereas “The wind blew the tree” is written in active voice.
Passive voice sounds weak and non-committal, but active is strong and reads smoother. The easiest way to check for passive voice is to use the “by zombies” rule. Add the phrase “by zombies” (or dogs, feminists, caffeine addicts, any noun you want, really) to the end of all your sentences. If the sentence makes sense with “by zombies” at the end, then it’s in passive voice. “The tree was blown by zombies” makes sense, whereas “The wind blew the tree by zombies” does not. If you don’t want to go through sentence by sentence, just copy and paste your work into a passive voice detector such as the free service on Datayze.com or Grammarly.com.
4. BECOME BEST FRIENDS WITH A THESAURUS
We all have our favorite words—I tend to lean on vague and multi-dimensional verbs like “create”—and sometimes we can get in a trap of over-using them. What if I created a post about a creative photographer who creates a comfortable environment for clients to create their dream images? That example is a bit heavy-handed, but you get the idea—repetitive words are glaring and obvious to your readers.
Thesaurus.com is easy to use and helps spice up your content. I’ll change that sentence to: I wrote a post about an inventive photographer who fosters a comfortable environment for clients to realize their dream images.
5. EDIT LIKE A TEACHER
It can be hard to step away from your own writing and read it as a new reader would. Sometimes letting it rest for a day, printing it out, and doing a comprehensive edit on paper (with a fun pen!) can do the trick. Play teacher for a bit and approach it like a paper that someone turned in to you. Seeing your own work printed out rather than on your computer can provide the mental distance you need, and going old school with a pen instead of your trackpad adds an element of novelty that can get you into a different mindset.
6. USE A LINE-BY-LINE TECHNIQUE
When you have your work printed out, it can be helpful to look at it line by line and cover the lines below with paper. This allows you to see each word and line as it stands alone in the piece rather than as part of a whole. Looking at the entire piece at once can cause you to mentally block out the unnecessary sentences and superfluous words, looking just at the parts that are working for the article. Physically covering the remainder of your content prevents you from ignoring any component of your work.
7. TAKE OUT AS MANY WORDS AS POSSIBLE
Repetition is your biggest enemy. Imagine that sentence written this way: “Truly, repetition and putting the same ideas over and over again is the biggest downfall of many writers.” The two sentences express the same idea, but one of them is five words and another is a whopping eighteen. Which sentence do you think your clients are more likely to finish reading?
All of your sentences shouldn’t be so short, but making an effort to cut out every possible word is a good idea. It is essential to make sure that every sentence you write is moving your point forward, not wallowing in some tangent that will distract readers from your task.